Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kid Friendly Snack Attack!

Last night, my best friend asked me for some kid-friendly nutrition suggestions. She's a busy mom (what mom isn't a busy mom?) with a toddler, and she's looking for easy, nonperishable snacks to grab and go.

Researching this request was more difficult than I had originally imagined, for a few reasons. One, I don't have a toddler of my own. Two, so much has changed since I was a kid. I was born before the era of snack packs, slurpable yogurt, and cereal bars with the milk built in. When I was younger, I don't remember eating snacks on-the-go. We didn't have to, since things moved at a slower pace.

But today's world is different. We're busy. Both parents work. Kids go to school and camp and daycare and dance class and soccer. The food industry has really capitalized on this lifestyle shift, and created hundreds (if not thousands) of food products meant to be consumed in transit. The problem is, not many of these foods are healthy. So, what really is a good pick for a healthy snack that doesn't require a ton of prep work or refrigeration? Here's what I came up with, based on that old game we used to play as kids, "Green Light-- Red Light --Go!"

Green Light Snacks-- Good Choices
- Dried fruit, like small boxes of raisins, 1-2 dried pineapple or apple rings, a few slices of dried mango or 3-4 dried apricots.
- Does your kid like salty stuff? Toss a few giant pitted olives or canned baby corns in a baggie.
- Frozen edamame will defrost by snack time. Older kids will love peeling them out of their pods.
- Some cheeses don't require refrigeration. Try a Laughing Cow wedge and a whole wheat mini pita to smear it on. Finger friendly!
- Individually packaged hummus cups. Some even have pretzels for dipping built right in.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are always a great choice, but many parents complain that they doesn't travel well, and take prep work. Instead, try pre-sliced apple packs, packages of baby carrots, or fruits with thick skins, like bananas or oranges.
- Individual applesauce cups (Serve with a graham cracker broken into 4 bars for dipping, and you can forgo the spoon).
- Whole wheat crackers or pretzels. Older kids can dip into prepackaged peanut butter cups, all ages will enjoy low-fat cream cheese cups.
- Frozen low fat muffins or muffin tops (such as Vitamuffin brand) come in lots of kid-friendly flavors and will defrost by snack time.

Yellow Light Snacks -- Reasonable Choices, to be enjoyed in moderation
- Individually wrapped graham crackers, un-iced animal crackers, or nilla wafers. Keep the cookie simple to keep sugar in check.
- Small bags of baked tortilla chips, baked potato chips, or cheese crackers. Go with more fiber friendly options first.
- Granola bars. Look for brands that stick to whole grain oats as the first ingredient, and are about 100 calories a bar.
- Nuts are a great snack, if your child is the right age. Try roasted chick peas or soy nuts too. Nuts are high in fat, so keep the portion in check.

Red Light Snacks -- Stop! These are best avoided, or eaten as special treats.
- Fried banana chips
- Trail mixes with candy tossed in
- Yogurt covered fruits. That yogurt coating is mostly sugar and oil.
- Veggie chips, crisps or stix. Most of these are fried and/or don't contain much vegetable at all, despite their name.
- Prepackaged cheese or peanut butter sandwich crackers. These often contain trans fats, so make your own instead.
- Fruit rolls, bites, gummies or snacks. These candy-like treats rely on sugar for flavor, not real fruit, regardless of what the package claims.

I'd love to hear from parents out there. What are your top snack picks for toddlers and kids?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Volunteering

Lots of friends and family have asked me recently how things are going at the local hospital. I've been volunteering there for about two months in the Nutrition department.

Things are going well. I've been busy. Even though it's a small hospital, sometimes there are not enough hands to help out. Volunteers fill in the gaps by offering comfort or cheer to patients, by assisting staff with research projects, or by helping with the daily office activities that make a hospital run.

This week, my supervisor asked me to leave her a note on how one of my assignments, patient feeding, is going. "Patient feeding" is the term the hospital uses to describe anyone who needs a little extra assistance at mealtime. Maybe someone has trouble swallowing; I help them to take it slow. Maybe someone broke an arm; I can offer an extra hand. Sometimes, all I do is give encouragement. Patients on medications may lose their appetites, so I try my best to get them to eat and keep up their strength.

I'm sure my supervisor expects a quick post-it on her desk, summing things up efficiently. Such as, "Going well. Training helped. Needed most on 4th and 6th floors." I plan to leave a post-it saying just that, but her comment really got me thinking... if we all had more time in the day, here's what I'd tell her:

Patient feeding is one of the most rewarding and toughest experiences I have yet to face on my road to becoming an RD. It is both satisfying and heartbreaking at the same time. It has put a human face on my studies.

To share a meal with another person is such a deep human desire. It's what brings us together, and I am overwhelmed with the impulse to help patients feel this little bit of normalcy in their day. In return, I can't describe the gratitude I receive by helping with this one simple act-- eating. Gratitude, even from patients who cannot speak. Or gratitude from those who can, who want to share a little about their lives before they got sick.

I thought I would be scared to have such close interaction with the elderly, sick, and injured. But I am not. I have surprised myself. In fact, I find myself reaching out to hold a hand or wipe a chin often. I don't mind the occasional spill or dribble. I sit with them and linger a bit, always trying to coax them to eat a few more bites, take a few more sips. I pop my head into their rooms later to see how they are. I think about them in the evenings while I make my own meals. What are they doing now? Is family visiting, I hope? When will they get to go home?

I am always thanked at the end of a patient feeding. Sometimes by the patient, or a family member, and repeatedly by the staff. Truthfully, I feel silly being thanked when I am the grateful one, learning so much more than I ever though possible, just by sharing a meal.